A discussion between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder and spiritual master of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Desmond James Bernard O’Grady, poet.
(Editor’s note: Desmond O’Grady is a thirty-nine year old Irish poet who has recently published some nine books of poetry, including Hellas, The Dying Gaul and The Dark Edge of Europe. He is represented in a number of anthologies, including New Modern Poetry. He has studied at Harvard and includes Ezra Pound as one of his most influential teachers. He is well known in Ireland as one of that country’s major poets.
As Srila Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual master of the Hare Krishna movement, travels around the world, he often meets leading figures in philosophy, politics, science and literature. He always exhorts such influential men to take to the process of Krishna consciousness and employ its realization in their work. This discussion with Mr. O’Grady took place in Rome during May, 1974.)
MR. O’GRADY: Your edition of Bhagavad-gita is very nice.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: It is the fifth edition in two years.
MR. O’GRADY: In which country has the Hare Krishna movement been the most successful?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Everywhere. In Africa, America, Canada, Japan, China. But actually it has been most successful in America. Many Americans have taken to Krishna consciousness.
MR. O’GRADY: What about here in Rome? Have you had problems with the police?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: We have problems everywhere. Police sometimes harass us, but usually they become tired and eventually don’t do anything. [laughter]
MR. O’GRADY: The system give up? That’s marvelous. I feel very tired of the system myself. Something is wrong with the present state of affairs. Maybe you can give me some advice on how to beat the system.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: You Irish people! You are never tired of fighting.
MR. O’GRADY: No. [laughter] It’s inside us.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Actually, the fighting has been going on constantly.
MR. O’GRADY: Well, what do you suggest we do about it? I mean, is it morally correct for me to be sitting here-
SRILA PRABHUPADA: As long as we remain illusioned by the bodily conception of life, thinking we are these bodies, one man thinking “I am Irish,” another thinking “I am Italian, American, Indian,” and so on—as long as this goes on, the fighting will go on. You cannot stop fighting between dogs and cats. Why do they fight? The dog simply thinks, “I am a big dog.” And the cat thinks, “I am a big cat.” In the same way, if we think,” I am an Irishman” or “I am an Englishman,” then we are no better than the cats and dogs. As long as people remain in a bodily conception of life, there will be fighting.
MR. O’GRADY: What was Mahatma Gandhi fighting in the House of Commons?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: That was another dog-ism. There is no difference. A dog thinks, “I am a dog,” because he has the body of a dog. If I am thinking that I am Indian because this body was born on Indian soil, then how am I different from the dog? The bodily conception of life is simply animalism. When we understand that we are not these bodies but are spirit souls, there will be peace. There cannot be any peace otherwise. Sa eva go-kharah. The Vedic literatures state that a person in the bodily concept of life is exactly like a cow or an ass. People have to transcend this inferior conception of the self. How is that done?
mam ca yo ‘vyabhicarena
sa gunan samatityaitan
“One who engages in full devotional service, who does not fall down in any circumstance, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.” [Bhagavad-gita, 14.26]
In our society, there are many Mexicans, Canadians, Indians, Jews and Muslims, but they no longer consider themselves Muslims, Christians, Jews or whatever. They are all servants of Krishna. That is Brahman realization.
MR. O’GRADY: That’s giving it a name also.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Yes, a name must be there. But although, for example, your name is different from that of another Irishman, you nonetheless all feel that you are Irish. One’s name may be different, but that doesn’t matter. The quality should be one. That is required. When we acquire Krishna’s quality, then, despite different names, there will be peace. That is called so ‘ham. The names of different people in a nation may be different, but all the people feel the same nationality. Varieties may exist, but if the quality is the same, that is oneness, brahma-bhuta.
na socati na kanksati
samah sarvesu bhutesu
mad-bhaktim labhate param
“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” [Bg. 18.54]
This world is miserable for the materially infected person, but for the devotee, the entire world is as good as Vaikuntha. For the impersonalist, achieving the Brahman stage, becoming one with the Absolute, is the last word.
MR. O’GRADY: Is the Absolute external or internal?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: There is no external or internal. The Absolute is without duality.
MR. O’GRADY: OK, but on an individual level—
SRILA PRABHUPADA: We are not absolute. When we are situated on the absolute platform, we are absolute. However, now we are in the relative world. The Absolute Truth is here also, but our senses are not sufficiently elevated to understand that Absolute Truth. As long as we are under the control of time, there is no question of becoming absolute.
MR. O’GRADY: So absolute means life beyond time?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: That is stated in Bhagavad-gita.
janma karma ca me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma
naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” [Bg. 4.9]
That is absolute—going back home, back to Godhead. As long as one is in the material world and identifies with this body, he transmigrates from one body to another. That is not absolute. This is clearly stated here. When one goes back to the spiritual world, he attains the absolute position.
MR. O’GRADY: All right, but this is my question: Is it sufficient for us to sit here—you sitting there and we as friends sitting with you engaging in the gentle art of conversation, while across the ocean—
SRILA PRABHUPADA: The point you have missed is that although you are sitting in one place and I am sitting in a different place, this difference does not affect our actual existence. We are both human beings. The conceptions of Irishman, Englishman, Protestant, Catholic and so on are but different dresses. One has to become free from these designations. When one is thus free, he becomes purified.
When you have purified your senses and engaged those purified senses in the service of the master of the senses, Krishna, you have perfected your life. That is nonduality, and that is absolute.
MR. O’GRADY: But the system insists that you think yourself American or Indian or African or whatever.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Yes. Materialistic society means duality.
MR. O’GRADY: But that’s unavoidable. How can you avoid material existence?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: That is possible in Krishna consciousness. The lotus lives in the water but never touches the water.
MR. O’GRADY: I don’t think you can explain situations in one area with metaphors from another. How can you argue political problems in terms of vague spiritual concepts? Their nature is completely different.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Sometimes a variety of examples helps us to understand or appreciate the problem better. In this vase there is a variety of flowers, and that variety helps us better appreciate the idea of flowers. From any point of view, Krishna can resolve all problems. Why just the problems of Irishmen or Englishmen? All problems. That is called unity in diversity. Our students come from different back grounds, but because they are all in Krishna consciousness, they are unified.
MR. O’GRADY: Very good. Yes, I accept that. I would like to know, though, that when you say Krishna consciousness, is there any difference between that and Christ consciousness?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: No, there is no difference. Christ came to preach the message of God. If you actually become Christ conscious, you become Krishna conscious.
MR. O’GRADY: And does becoming Krishna conscious or God conscious mean becoming self-conscious? That is, conscious of who we really are again?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Yes, God consciousness includes self-consciousness, but self-consciousness is not necessarily God consciousness.
MR. O’GRADY: But it may be?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: No.
MR. O’GRADY: One may achieve consciousness of the God that is within him.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: That means he is God conscious. You are now in the sunlight, and consciousness of the sun includes your ability to see yourself. In the darkness you cannot see yourself. At night you can’t even see your own hands or legs, but if you come before the sun, you see the sun and yourself also. Without sunlight, without God consciousness, self-consciousness is incomplete. However, God consciousness makes self-consciousness very clear.
MR. O’GRADY: We meet a lot of young people in our teaching profession, and we don’t try to teach them any kind of didactic salvation. We do try to direct them toward an awareness of what is best and what is most beautiful and what is most spiritually nourishing in the world about them—that is, insofar as the system allows us. Very frequently the students are not neutral enough to be in a spiritual condition; they are more in an emotional one. What we are faced with often is the basic question of “Who am I?” or, “What is it all about?”
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Yes.
MR. O’GRADY: Or they ask, “Why am I here?”
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Yes, very good.
MR. O’GRADY: We are asked, “Why should I be here? Who are you, teacher, and what gives you the right to tell us what to think or what to be or what not to be? Why should I read Shakespeare? Why should I listen to Mozart? I prefer Bob Dylan.” These kinds of question seem to emanate from a very disillusioned state of mind, and insecurity, and uncertainty and a lack of credibility in the total structure of things as they are. Frequently we have to answer these questions in a cataclysmic sort of way. Rather than presenting direct answers, we must answer indirectly, taking account of the conditioning that prompted students to ask these questions in the first place. Do you think that we should try to reach them more directly?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: You are talking about the problem of-
MR. O’GRADY: Modern education.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Yes. So many questions are there, but they are not answered by modern education. “Why have I come here? What is the purpose?” These questions should be answered perfectly. Therefore the Vedas enjoin:
tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet
To find answers to all these questions, one must approach a bona fide spiritual master.
MR. O’GRADY: What if you have none? What if we are told that Mr. Nixon is the bona fide spiritual master? What do we do?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: No. No. [laughter] There is a standard for bona fide spiritual masters. You have only heard one line of the verse. Who is the spiritual master? That is the next line:
srotriyam brahma-nistham. The word srotriyam refers to one who has heard from another bona fide source. A spiritual master is he who has taken the message from another qualified spiritual master. This is just like a medical man who has taken the knowledge of medical science from another medical man. Similarly, the bona fide spiritual ‘ master must come in a line of successive spiritual masters. The original spiritual master is God.
MR. O’GRADY: Yes. Granted.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: One who has heard from God explains the same message to his disciples. If that disciple doesn’t change the message, he is a bona fide spiritual master. That is our process. We take lessons by hearing from Krishna, God, and from Him understand who is perfect. Or we hear from His representative, who does not contradict Krishna and who has realized His message. It is not that we speak one thing and do all nonsense. One who does so is not a spiritual master.
MR. O’GRADY: Now there’s my poor old father, living west of Ireland. A simple old man, 78 years now, your generation. He has gotten to the point at his age where he says, “They tell me, the priests, they tell me ultimately that it’s God who knows. But I want to know who told God.” Then he comes to me and says, “You went to school and you read books. Tell me, who told God?” So I have no answer. That is the difference between 78 and 39 years.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: No, it is not a difference of age. The difference is knowledge. In the Brahma-sutra the question is raised: Who is God? First of all there is this question.
MR. O’GRADY: Who taught God.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: No. First of all there is the question who is God. Then we shall ask who taught God. The Vedanta-sutra says, athato brahma-jijnasa: now we should inquire who is God. Unless you know who God is, how can you raise the question of who instructed God? If you don’t know God, the question does not arise who instructed God. Is this not so?
MR. O’GRADY: Yes.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Who God is is explained in the Brahma-sutra. Janmady asya yatah: God is He from whom everything emanates. That is God-the Supreme Being from whom everything emanates. Now, what is the nature of that Supreme Being? Is He a dead stone or a living entity? That is also explained. Janmady asya yato ‘nvayad itaratas carthesv abhijnah svarat: the Supreme Being is fully cognizant of everything, directly and indirectly. Unless He is fully cognizant of everything, He cannot be God. Then the question that you raised comes, Who taught God? And that is also answered. Svarat: He is fully independent. He does not need to take lessons from anyone. That is God. If one needs to take lessons from others, He is not God. Krishna spoke Bhagavad-gita, and He did not have to learn it from anyone. I had to learn it from my spiritual master, but Krishna did not have to learn it from anyone. One who does not need to take lessons from others is God.
MR. O’GRADY: Where does human love come in?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Everything is coming from God. Being part and parcel of God, we manifest partial love because the original love is there in Him. Nothing can exist if it is not in God; therefore love is there in God.
MR. O’GRADY: And manifestations of love are manifestations of God?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Unless the loving propensity is there in God, how can we manifest it? A son born of a particular father has the symptoms of the father. Because the loving propensity is in God, we have that same propensity.
MR. O’GRADY: Maybe love is generated in you by the need.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: No, there is no question of “maybe.” We are defining God in absolute terms. Janmady asya yatah: God is He from whom everything has emanated. The fighting propensity is also there in God, but His fighting and His loving are absolute. In the material world we experience that fighting is just the opposite of loving, but in God the fighting propensity and the loving propensity are one and the same. That is the meaning of absolute. We learn from the Vedic scriptures that when the so-called enemies of God are killed by God, they attain liberation.
MR. O’GRADY: Is it possible to arrive at this understanding of God alone?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: No. Therefore we have cited this verse: tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet. The word abhigacchet means “must.” It is not possible alone. In Sanskrit grammar this is called the vidhi-lin form of a verb, and this form is used when there is no choice. The word abhigacchet means that one must approach a guru. That is the Vedic version. Therefore in Bhagavad-gita you will find that Arjuna was talking to Krishna, but when he saw that things were not being resolved, he surrendered himself to Krishna and accepted Him as his guru.
prcchami tvam dharma-sammudha-cetah
yac chreyah syan niscitam bruhi tan me
sisyas te ‘ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam
“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me clearly what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.” (Bg. 2.7) So here we can see that Arjuna is confused about his duty.
MR. O’GRADY: Is this duty to the self, to others, or to the state?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: A soldier’s duty is to fight with the enemy. Arjuna was a soldier, and Krishna advised him, “The opposite party is your enemy, and you are a soldier. Why are you trying to be nonviolent? This is not good.” Then Arjuna said, “Actually, I am confused. In this confusion I cannot make the right decision. I therefore accept You as my spiritual master. Please give me the proper lesson.” In a chaotic condition, in a confused state of life, one should approach another, who is in full knowledge of the matter. You go to a lawyer to solve legal problems, and you go to a physician to solve medical problems. Everyone in the material world is confused about spiritual identity. It is therefore our duty to approach a bona fide spiritual master who can give us real knowledge.
MR. O’GRADY: I am very confused.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: So you must approach a spiritual master.
MR. O’GRADY: And he makes a decision on how to help me stop this confusion?
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Yes, the spiritual master is one who solves all confusion. If the spiritual master cannot save his disciple from confusion, he is not a spiritual master. That is the test.
This whole confused world is just like a blazing forest fire. In a forest fire all the animals are confused. They do not know where to go to save their lives. In the blazing fire of the material world, everyone is confused. How can that blazing forest fire be extinguished? It is not possible to utilize your man-made fire brigade, nor is it possible to simply pour buckets of water. The solution comes when rain from the clouds falls on the forest fire. Only then can the fire be extinguished. That ability is not in your hands, but is in the mercy of God. So, human society is in a confused state, and it cannot find a solution. The spiritual master is one who has received the mercy of God, and he can deliver the solution to the confused man. One who has received the mercy of God can become a spiritual master and deliver that mercy to others.
MR. O’GRADY: The problem is to find this spiritual master.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: That is not a problem. The problem is whether you are sincere. You have problems, but God is within your heart. Isvarah sarva-bhutanam. God is not far away. If you are sincere, God sends you a spiritual master. Therefore God is also called caitya-guru, the spiritual master within the heart. God helps from within and from without. Everything is thus described in Bhagavad-gita. This material body is like a machine, but within the heart is the soul, and with the soul is the Supersoul, Krishna, who gives directions. The Lord says, “You wanted to do this; now here is the chance. Go and do it.” If you are sincere, you say, “Now, God, I want You.” Then He will give you directions. “Yes, now you come and get Me like this.” This is His kindness. However, if we want something else, that is all right. We can have it. God is very kind. When I want something, He is in my heart directing me and telling me how to have it. So why should He not give directions on how to have a spiritual master? First of all we must again be eager to revive our God consciousness. Then God will give us a spiritual master.
MR. O’GRADY: Thank you very much.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: Thank you very much. My request to you is this. You are a poet. Just describe God. You are expert in describing, and therefore I ask you to kindly describe God in your occupation. Then your life will be successful. And if one hears you, his life will also be successful. That is the injunction:
idam hi pumsas tapasah srutasya va
svistasya suktasya ca buddhi-dattayoh
avicyuto ‘rthah kavibhir nirupito
There are many leaders in society who are poets, scientists, religionists, philosophers, politicians and so on. Those who are so expert are given this injunction: your duty is to perfect your occupation by describing the glories of the Supreme Being.
MR. O’GRADY: My experience is that for some extraordinary reason, one is chosen to do a particular thing.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: That reason is given here. Avicyutah. The infallible choice is this: “Let them describe the glories of the Lord.”
MR. O’GRADY: But you were saying that the spiritual master is chosen. The spiritual master, the poet, the priest is chosen by God. This person is chosen to write poems or paint pictures or make music.
SRILA PRABHUPADA: So when you compose music, compose music about God. That is your perfection.
MR. O’GRADY: When one works for God in his line, then his line becomes his perfection?